I oppose most Israeli settlements in the West Bank. They are unnecessary, they drain resources from Israel proper, they compromise Israel’s security, they are a provocation to the Palestinians, they provide fodder for Arab and Muslim extremists and their European and American fellow travelers.
These are good reasons for opposing settlements. But of late I am hearing other reasons which are not so good; in fact, which are more than a little troubling. They are coming from Ameinu’s allies within the Zionist peace camp. They smack of conspiracy theory and they suggest a double standard for the Jewish state. They rely for their justification on the notion of “territorial integrity.”
The claims are twofold:
1) The maintaining of large settlements deep in the West Bank precludes the development of a viable Palestinian state, by splitting the northern and southern West Bank from each other. The prime example is Ariel, the largest settlement stretching a substantial distance into the West Bank.
2) The connecting of settlements to Jerusalem will cut off its resident Palestinians from the rest of the West Bank. The prime example is the connecting of Ma’aleh Adumim to Jerusalem, through development of the area known as E1.
So I got out my maps, my ruler, and (advancing age!) my magnifying glass. It looks to me as if Ariel is about 35 kilometers (21 miles) from the eastern border of the West Bank, the Jordan River. That’s almost twice the width of the narrowest part of pre-1967 Israel, 20 kilometers (12 miles) east of Herzliyah. Thus, even if a maximalist Ehud Olmert were to decide to keep Ariel, the width of the Palestinian West Bank would still be substantially greater than the width of pre-1967 Israel at its narrowest point.
The logic of the territorial integrity argument then reduces to one of two premises:
1) Jews are somehow capable of maintaining a narrower contiguous state than Palestinians.
2) Jews are obliged to live in danger of having their state cut in half, while Palestinians must be protected from that eventuality.
Stated this way, the territorial integrity argument clearly lacks, well, integrity. Apparently sensing the problem, some of its proponents have attempted to draw a distinction between “contiguity of land” and “contiguity of society.” Their argument is that, unlike the narrow waist of Israel, the narrowest region of the West Bank is sparsely populated; in effect, a no-man’s land splitting the northern and southern West Bank.
This is a distinction without a difference. Tel Aviv was once a sand dune. It is the job of any nation to choose where to make the desert bloom. Why exempt Palestine? In fact, by their own logic, the proponents of territorial integrity should insist that the narrowest parts of Palestine be rapidly populated, so that Palestinians may be at the same risk as Israelis. Similarly, those who base their argument for removal of Ariel on territorial integrity should also argue for extending the border of Israel to more than twice its pre-1967 distance from Herzliyah.
As regards the contiguity of Ma’aleh Adumim with Jerusalem vs. the contiguity of Arab Jerusalem with the West Bank, a look at the map of the proposed E1 shows that it is slated to connect northeast Jerusalem with Ma’aleh Adumim. Southeast Jerusalem would remain attached to the West Bank. We could argue that more roads and infrastructure should be built to enhance that contiguity. We should certainly oppose any encroachments south of E1. (We should also support all efforts to end suicide attacks, so that the security fence/wall can be eventually dismantled.) But we cannot claim that connecting the top half of the city’s border to Ma’aleh Adumim jeopardizes access of the bottom half to Palestine.
So maybe the Prime Minister and the government of Israel have conspired on some secret plan to counter the wishes of the majority of their electorate and make a viable Palestinian state impossible. But the maps certainly don’t reveal it.
Integrity means sticking to the right arguments for relinquishing territory. Abandoning Ariel is a good idea, for all the reasons I listed at the beginning of this essay, but not because it cuts the West Bank in half. Abandoning Ma’aleh Adumim might also be a good idea, but connecting it to Jerusalem doesn’t separate the city’s Arabs from their West Bank brethren.
Integrity also means supporting Israeli sovereignty in some of those places others call settlements. Every new or rebuilt neighborhood in Jerusalem, including the Jewish Quarter with the Western Wall, is considered by much of the world to be a settlement. Putting these on the table would be an opening negotiating position– with Hamas. No one (at least no one with integrity) proposes doing so. Integrity means calling for mutual territorial compromise, while avoiding positions that demand of one side what is not demanded of the other. Integrity means acknowledging the truth of Amos Oz’s metaphor: that it is better to be in a Chekhov play, where everyone comes away a little unhappy but alive, than to be in Hamlet, where everyone defends unshakable principle and the stage is littered with corpses.